I approached the entrance with only one task in mind. I needed to purchase my final Christmas gift and then I would be done. I was grinning because I knew there would be so many frantic last-minute shoppers and I was so glad I wasn’t going to be one of them. With a bit of excitement, I opened the door to the shopping mall and stepped inside.
I was immediately greeted with the sound of shoppers hustling about. I had taken the least used entrance to the mall to avoid as many people as possible. I scooted along a short corridor and then entered the main area of the mall. It was then that I came to a complete STOP!
There were far more people in the mall than I had expected. I didn’t remember seeing that many cars in the parking lot. I stayed focused on my mission. Get to the store and purchase my last Christmas gift.
The store was small in size and seemed even smaller with the vast amounts of products displayed throughout. I tried to find the item I wanted to purchase and I was overwhelmed by everything around me. I began to panic a bit. My eyes darted all about the store in desperate search for what I was after.
It was then I began to notice the number of people around me. I couldn’t maneuver down a single aisle without others hovered around me. I turned around in hopes of finding a clearing. Suddenly, the lady to my right decided to move and bumped right into me.
My pulse began to race. I looked about quickly and realized nothing seemed familiar. I moved quickly to another corner and still couldn’t find what I needed. In fact, everything was packaged and displayed differently than the last time I had shopped there. I was lost.
I couldn’t leave empty-handed. As I looked about frantically, I spotted a very small display of gift cards. I had no intentions of getting a gift card when I arrived. But now, with my heart racing and my breathing quickened, I grabbed one. I made my way forward to the cashier.
There were other customers waiting in front of me. It was now or never. I could give up and leave, or I could stay in line. I remained where I stood. I couldn’t hold still. My feet were nervously moving about and I rocked from one foot to the other. I kept turning around to see the shoppers around me. They had multiplied and they were all standing in my comfort zone.
I bolted towards the cashier when it was my turn. I know I said something to the store employee, but I’m not sure it was decipherable. I made my purchase as fast as the cashier allowed. I needed to leave and I need to leave right now!
There were so many people, it felt. I was beginning to sweat and my heart was pounding so hard and fast. I thought it would burst from my chest. There was Christmas music being broadcast and it seemed to penetrate my eardrums. Why did it have to be so loud? There were bright shining lights everywhere. Kids were screaming and running about.
Now! I had to exit that store right now! I walked as quickly as my sore back and feet would allow me. I was beginning to feel queasy. “Please,” I thought to myself, “don’t pass out.” My vision was getting cloudy. My stomach felt as though it had suddenly flipped on its side.
I reached for the door and those last few steps seemed impassable. I opened the door and sucked in the cool fresh air. Had I been holding my breath? I had to get to my vehicle. By the time I collapsed into the driver’s seat, I couldn’t breathe. Actually, I was hyperventilating. I couldn’t decide if I was going to pass out or throw up or both.
I know I’m not the only one who suffers from panic attacks and social anxiety. It is a real illness that affects millions of people. This actually happened to me today. But, I recovered. My heart rate went down and I’m thankful to report that I didn’t faint or get sick. But, I did need to call a friend to remind me how to recover. So, that is what I want to share here. Therefore, here are some ideas on how to deal with a panic attack.
- Go someplace away from what has caused the anxiety. This needs to be your safe place. I went to my vehicle. But, you could go to the restroom, or outside, to the park or any other place. And sometimes it may not be a physical location. Try putting on headphones, closing your eyes or taking a nap.
- Call a loving and supportive friend. Talk to someone whom you feel safe talking to and expressing your feelings. Personally, I don’t need anyone to “fix” me, I just need to talk and know that someone is willing to listen.
- Use any type of mindfulness activity or exercise. The key is to find one that works for you. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all.” Practice using some of these activities before you have a panic attack so you know which one(s) works for you. (Here is a great website with some ideas: Mayo Clinic.)
- Write down what you are feeling and why. This allows your mind to sort through all of the thoughts and reactions you are feeling at the moment. When you’re done, throw it away.
- Distract yourself. Watch TV, listen to music, read a book, go for a drive, clean the house or anything else that will take your mind off of what has caused the anxiety you are feeling.
These are just some of the things you can try. What’s important is to “get out of your mind.” Get away from, physically and/or emotionally, the source of your anxiety. Safely create some distance. Everyone experiences anxiety differently and so one approach won’t work for everyone. But, don’t give up trying. Keep trying until you find what works and then do it.
The holiday season is often a difficult time for many. Be patient with yourself and with others. We will all get through this together.
©2017 Julie Corbett